Democrats argue that the bill reduces minority turnout and maintains the GOP’s eroding dominance.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed an election overhaul into law Tuesday that increases voting restrictions in the booming state after Democrats spent months protesting what they say are efforts to weaken minority turnout and maintain the GOP’s eroding dominance.
Abbott signed the sweeping changes during a ceremony in Tyler, East Texas, where the surrounding county voted for former President Donald Trump by a margin of more than 2-to-1 last year.
The bill signing underscored Texas Republicans’ hard right turn this year, which included a new state law prohibiting most abortions that went into effect last week. Abbott stated that he chose Tyler as the location of the voting bill’s main author, Republican Sen. Bryan Hughes, who also authored the new abortion restrictions.
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Already, the rewrite of Texas’ voting laws is the subject of at least three federal lawsuits, one of which was filed on Tuesday, and all contend that the changes will disproportionately affect minorities. The law, according to Abbott and other Republicans, expands access by increasing the minimum number of early voting hours, but it also imposes new restrictions on late-night voting.
“I am extremely confident that this law will be upheld when it goes through the litigation phase,” Abbott said. “Because, as we previously stated, it makes it easier for people to vote. No one who is legally eligible to vote will be denied the right to vote.”
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According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 18 states have enacted new voting restrictions since the 2020 election.
The laws are part of a national GOP campaign to tighten voting laws in the name of security, including in Florida, Georgia, and Arizona, and are fueled in part by Trump’s false claims that the election was stolen.
Texas: Vehement opposition to the law
Opponents did not wait for Abbott’s signature before filing lawsuits against Senate Bill 1, the new Texas law.
The American Civil Liberties Union, minority rights organizations, and disability advocates are among a broad coalition that filed separate lawsuits in federal court in Texas last week, accusing Republican lawmakers of violating the federal Voting Rights Act and intentionally discriminating against minorities.
Some changes are aimed squarely at the Houston area, where US President Joe Biden won a 13-point victory over the surrounding county’s 1.6 million voters.
During the COVID-19 pandemic last year, Harris County elections officials provided 24-hour polling locations and drive-thru voting, both of which are now prohibited by the new law.
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The county also attempted to send mail-in ballot applications to more than two million registered voters, but in Texas, any elections official who attempts to send an application to someone who has not requested one may face criminal charges.
Democrats want to strengthen federal voting rights.
Partisan poll watchers now have more freedom, and election judges who obstruct them may face criminal charges, which Democrats argue could lead to voter intimidation.
“Today, black voters were denied the right to vote. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has purposefully signed away democracy for a large number of people. We are disgusted,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement.
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In response to new voting restrictions in GOP-controlled statehouses, Democrats in Congress want to pass new federal voting rights protections at the federal level but have been unable to overcome opposition from Senate Republicans.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Biden’s approach on voting rights, saying the president had used his bully pulpit and made Vice-President Kamala Harris the point person on the issue, but Psaki said the administration planned to take additional but unspecified steps to address concerns from voting rights groups.
“We would say to these advocates: ‘We stand with you,’ ” Psaki told reporters Tuesday aboard Air Force One. “There’s more we’re going to keep working on together.”
Abbott signed the bill 100 days after Democrats kicked off a summer of last-ditch manoeuvres by walking out of the state capitol to temporarily block the measure.
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That was followed by more than 50 Democrats flying to Washington, D.C., in July to thwart the bill for a second time, which led to Republicans issuing civil arrest warrants in an effort to compel Democrats to return, although no one wound up being forced to come back.
But the protests did not wind up significantly changing the bill, underscoring Republicans’ determination to pass the measure and the strength of their commanding majority in the Texas capitol.